BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Back and forth at city hall

There were some hints of what the next four years may bring for the new Vernon city council.

Last week’s budget sessions in Vernon were relatively uneventful, but there were some hints of what the next four years may bring for the new city council.

And specifically, it was interesting to observe the relationship among the four incumbents and three newcomers.

“I don’t want to be talking about what they’re learning,” said Coun. Brian Quiring who was increasingly frustrated over the ongoing debate about training for managers.

“I don’t want to micro-manage.”

That brought a sharp response from Coun. Catherine Lord.

“Eighty-thousand dollars is not micro-managing,” she insisted.

Also taking Quiring on was Coun. Scott Anderson, who is sitting at the table for the first time.

“It’s our job. We’re not supposed to rubber-stamp $80,000 every time it shows up,” he said.

However, Anderson’s comments didn’t go over well with Coun. Juliette Cunningham, who took exception to the term rubber-stamp.

“In my time as councillor, I’ve always taken time to look at what’s presented,” she said.

It was left to Mayor Akbal Mund to try and refocus the discussion about training and he spoke about how he, as former owner, sent local Wendy’s managers to courses to improve their skills.

“We found that retention was great. The managers stayed for a minimum of five years and they trained the staff that became managers when they left,” he said.

The other minor flare-up during budget talks was when Anderson raised the always contentious issue of councillors being paid for attending committee meetings.

“I’m not going to be taking any and there are volunteers who show up and have expenses who don’t receive it,” he said.

Anderson’s suggestion that committee meeting pay be scrapped drew rapid criticism from the incumbent councillors.

“For some councillors, the meeting pay is necessary,” said Lord.

That was also the view of Quiring, who says the $137 may make it possible for an elected official to put their career or family life on hold  for a few hours so they can conduct civic business.

“There are people who incur costs to go to a meeting. They have to hire someone to fill in for them (at their job),” he said.

“We want to encourage young people to be here.”

The other challenge to the status quo also came from Anderson when council decided to increase the budget for transportation, conferences and courses to $20,235.

Most of the veteran councillors made the case that attending conferences, such as the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, is important because it is an opportunity to lobby senior government on issues of concern while interacting with other community leaders and bringing their ideas back to Vernon.

Anderson didn’t disagree with politicians leaving town for conferences, but he raised concern about more money going to trips and hotels.

“The public perception is it sounds like a junket,” he said.

None of the differences of opinion were very serious and were expected as council members get used to each other’s distinct personalities as well as any ideological attitudes. In some ways, it isn’t much different than a newly married couple trying to meld two independent spirits into a relationship of trust and understanding.

Will the future at Vernon city hall be co-operative and respectful or will it be acrimonious and divisive? We probably won’t have to wait four years to find out.